John Boehner and Eric Cantor have put the Affordable Care Act on the table in the high stakes poker game between the president and the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives. I don't know whether House Republicans are serious about killing healthcare reform or they're just using it as a bargaining chip. Either way, the GOP needs to be careful or Obamacare may bite it on the butt. A butt that is still sore from the spanking it got on Election Day.
The Affordable Care Act has come a long way since it became law in 2010. Obamacare is now almost as much a blessing as it is a curse. In the national Election Day exit poll, there were almost as many voters who supported (44 percent) Obamacare as there were who opposed (49 percent) it. John Boehner couldn't kill Obamacare at the polls, so he's now trying to repeal it behind closed doors.
Why has the opposition to Obamacare declined in the last two years? The president certainly didn't do a good job selling the Affordable Care Act but Republicans themselves neutered healthcare reform as a campaign issue this year. First, the conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts put his seal of approval on the Affordable Care Act in June. Then Republicans nominated a presidential candidate, Mitt Romney who supported the prototype for Obamacare when he was a moderate and while he was governor of Massachusetts. Former Sen. Rick Santorum said Romney was the worst possible candidate to run against the Affordable Care Act. Please don't tell anyone I wrote these words but Rick Santorum was right.
During the presidential campaign, the GOP mantra on Obamacare was "repeal and replace." Well Republicans talked a lot about repeal and said damn little about replace. The GOP repeals the Affordable Care Act at its own risk. The national exit poll indicates that there a just as many Americans (29 percent) who wanted to expand Obamacare as there were (25 percent) who wished to repeal it. Healthcare reform is not a can of worms that Republicans want to open.
There's other data on healthcare that would make Republicans queasy if they took a close look at the national exit poll. About one in five voters said that healthcare was the issue that was most important to them. These voters supported Obama over Romney by a three to one margin (75 percent to 24 percent). If nothing else Obamacare may have demonstrated that Obama cares. A fifth of the voters said they wanted a president who cared about them. This group of voters went with the president by a four to one margin (81 percent to 18 percent).
If the GOP did find a way to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the party would only solidify its image as being the party of the past. If Obamacare is repealed, millions of Americans will go back to the bad old days when health insurance industry executives denied claims for people who had pre-existing conditions and had paid expensive premiums for years. We would return to the days when the companies could charge women higher premiums than men. Americans have been there and done that. They don't want to go backwards.
The other thing that will keep the battle over Obamacare on the front burner is the looming fight between conservative Republican governors and the feds. Several governors, including Rick Perry of Texas have already stated that they won't accept additional Medicaid money to fund Obamacare. Not coincidentally, many of the those governors lead states like Texas, South Carolina, and Louisiana which are at the bottom of the pile in the quality of the healthcare their residents receive. Obamacare is just what the doctor ordered for these states. If the governors of these states could put principle before politics, they could even the healthcare playing field and improve the quality of life for their people. But I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.